A moving parable about the wounding effects of human tragedy and the collateral damage of the search for moral truth.

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The Arsonist's Last Words

An elegiac novel that deftly combines elements of investigative journalism and crime fiction.

This debut effort follows the morally wrenching aftermath of a major urban catastrophe in a way that’s eerily evocative of the 9/11 attacks. A massive fire consumes the Parramore Plaza in Orlando, Fla., killing 115 people and emotionally scarring untold more. Marko Abissi, a recently fired janitor, immediately falls under suspicion, as he all too perfectly fits the profile of an arsonist: He has a history of violence and a personal life crumbling into disarray. There are also rumors that he has ties to the Middle East. Juni Bruner, a grizzled veteran reporter, tirelessly investigates every lead, desperately trying to make sense of the despairingly senseless. The book’s startlingly innovative structure powerfully captures the city’s madness in response to the disaster. Instead of a traditional novel told from a single perspective, the book is more like a heap of archival documents—including newspaper articles, personal correspondence, transcripts of telephone conversations and even a worker’s compensation report. The reader becomes a proactive participant in the investigation, poring over the dark mystery’s disjointed evidence. From the outset, the novel reveals that Bruner won a Pulitzer Prize for her ace reportage and that she ultimately took her own life, leaving only a 200-page manuscript as a clue to her inconsolable sadness. Her spiraling descent mirrors the city’s frenzied chaos, its people numbed by depression and enlivened by the urgency to assign blame. Although the climax is fairly predictable early on, it’s still a poignant conclusion to a stirring tale. It’s a testament to the author’s skill that the narrative remains a seamless whole, even as it unfolds in fractured parts.

A moving parable about the wounding effects of human tragedy and the collateral damage of the search for moral truth. 

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0985535803

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Mansfield House Books

Review Posted Online: May 24, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2013

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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